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Getting < 190 off Still, Having Issues.

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Hey guys,

Any advice on getting < 190 on a 15 plate reflux still? It's been such a pain for me, but I would like any tips on making it a bit easier to achieve.

I normally add about 315-330 gallons at around 125-135 proof, heat ups are about 2.5-3 hours, all plates active and bubbling, easy to pull 188, that last few points though are a pain, any advice?

 

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Add a couple more plates. Really, that might be the difference. We built up a column, plate by plate. We had to get to 16 plates to get over 190. At 14 plates we were at 188. Also, the control of the dephlegmator and heating source, in proper balance and flow, is critical to maintaining that 190 through much of the run.

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If you upped your reflux ratio by increasing flow to the deph (and deal with the resulting decrease in takeoff) you might be able to eek out a few more points. Bluestar has nailed it though -- you really need a few more plates. If that's not an option and you have removable sightglasses, you might want to stuff the space between the top three plates with stainless steel scrubbies which should help.  There's no lack of home distillers that can pull off 95% in nothing more than a 72" column stuffed with copper or stainless mesh. Granted the takeoff rate is about 2 liters / hours but it is possible.

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DistillaMI ,,,,,,,,,greetings from TASMANIA , AUSTRALIA,,,BLUESTAR and INDYSPIRITS have made brilliant suggestions , but try this simple action first , no "skin off your

 

nose" if it doesn't work  ,,,,I noticed you are loading with an ABV of between approx. 63% - 67% , try cutting this to circa 45% - 50% , you should get a "cleaner" binary break

 

plus a greater scrubbing effect during reflux ,,,,,,,,,,many regards  , brian , retired distiller OLD but not necessary WISE ,,,LOL !!!

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A good portion of those home distillers making azeo claims with short packed columns also aren't correcting for temperature, or using precision hydrometers.  It's really easy to hit 195 when the distillate your measuring is 50c.  Just saying...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you using a calibrated hydrometer that only reads in the 190 range?

On the cheap 0-200 hydrometers it looked like we were at 188ish, but with the precision hydrometer we're at 190.#  The parrot fills from the bottom and the flow rate also makes the distillate appear to be at a lower proof, but in a cylinder and correcting for temp we're hitting what we need.

We've got 20 plates and strip first.

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Thanks for the quick responses everyone. Adding plates is not an option at this time; although I do only have 15 plates I'm using multiple passes. I strip with 4 plates, hit a second round through the still with all 15, then hit a final round with another 15 plates. I do have removable windows, I will try packing the top few plates, with SS scouring pads, see if that helps. As for finished product off the still, I'm using a portable density meter, the DMA 35, which is a very accurate unit that auto corrects for temps, to proof the finished spirit, so I don't think that is the issue.

Brian, what do you mean by a cleaner binary break? I will run the proof lower next time, but (pardon my lack of knowledge) why would that help?

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the greater scrubbing effect whereby the ratio of volatiles to non-volatiles changes causing a more effective reflux ,,,,can you run the POT [ boiler ] a little slower ????

had a good look around the net to find something a little more "TECHO " for you to read and probably "fry" your brain

if you GOOGLE ,,clean binary break during distillation ,,,then click on volatile solutes and distillation -chem 1

                                                                                       ,,next down the google list ,,,distillation pdf

                                                                                      ,,,,then next down the google  list again ,,separation of azeotropic mixtures -tools for analysis

 

this will certainly either make you wiser or send you "round the bend" LOL !

 

many regards and keep up the good work,,,,,,,brian

 

 

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On 7/10/2016 at 9:19 AM, Silk City Distillers said:

A good portion of those home distillers making azeo claims with short packed columns also aren't correcting for temperature, or using precision hydrometers.  It's really easy to hit 195 when the distillate your measuring is 50c.  Just saying...

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wasn't trying to attest to the veracity of any often-exaggerated home distiller claims (although I have gotten consistent 95% on a 72" column charged at 40% with my certified CP hydro at  takeoff rate of 1 LPH -- it was painful) just pointing out that packing might address the last few points they need.

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On 7/10/2016 at 0:29 PM, DistillaMI said:

Thanks for the quick responses everyone. Adding plates is not an option at this time; although I do only have 15 plates I'm using multiple passes. I strip with 4 plates, hit a second round through the still with all 15, then hit a final round with another 15 plates. I do have removable windows, I will try packing the top few plates, with SS scouring pads, see if that helps. As for finished product off the still, I'm using a portable density meter, the DMA 35, which is a very accurate unit that auto corrects for temps, to proof the finished spirit, so I don't think that is the issue.

Brian, what do you mean by a cleaner binary break? I will run the proof lower next time, but (pardon my lack of knowledge) why would that help?

Now you've gotten me curious... What is the the ABV of the stripping charge and the second run?  I'm quite surprised you're not hitting 190 with a third run.  Also, Im not so sure I'd run with any plates on my stripping run -- just a balls-to-the wall fast run for an initial water / etoh separation.  

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7 hours ago, indyspirits said:

I wasn't trying to attest to the veracity of any often-exaggerated home distiller claims (although I have gotten consistent 95% on a 72" column charged at 40% with my certified CP hydro at  takeoff rate of 1 LPH -- it was painful) just pointing out that packing might address the last few points they need.

Wasn't directed at anyone here, just a pet peeve.

I do think that really tight dephlegmator temperature control would go a long way to keeping the output abv maximized through the run.

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On 7/11/2016 at 0:54 PM, indyspirits said:

Now you've gotten me curious... What is the the ABV of the stripping charge and the second run?  I'm quite surprised you're not hitting 190 with a third run.  Also, Im not so sure I'd run with any plates on my stripping run -- just a balls-to-the wall fast run for an initial water / etoh separation.  

Initial stripping run pulls about 155-160 proof in the hearts using 4 plates a mild reflux, second run hits 186 or so using 15 plates, 3rd round hits 15 plates coming around 188 or so. Been loading the still around 135-140 proof. Will try 90-100 proof next time.

I've tried a fast stripping run with no plates, but it's so much cleaner using the plates that first round, and It doesn't take much more time to run it that way, plus I get a great heads cut on that first pass taking my time during heat up. 

Is time the primary concern with using plates on the first run, or is there another reason?

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If you are having trouble hitting 190 with the still loaded at 140, you absolutely won't hit it loading at 100.

Loading at 140, I find it a bit surprising that you can't consistently hit 190, even at a slower takeoff rate like Indyspirits mentions above.

How are you controlling your reflux, how are you controlling power input to the still?  You may find that you need to dial back your still power (or steam) considerably to be able to effectively raise the reflux rate to the point at which you have little vapor blowing by the dephlegmator.

You might want to try bringing up to temp, and dialing the power way back, keeping the still in 100% reflux, with absolutely no distillate being collected, and then ever so slightly decrease (fixed type) the dephlegmator flow rate (increase temperature) and/or increase power input to start collecting distillate.  Then, in a series of trial-and-error steps, keep increasing and measuring your take off proof ... until you find the maximum collection speed that can maintain your target proof.

Can you put the still into 100% reflux mode with absolutely no distillate coming out of the condenser - or darn close to it?  This is key.

I'm wondering if the power input is too high, and corresponding vapor speed is too high, which would make it appear as if there was a considerable amount of reflux, however there would also be a considerable amount of blow-by (trying to run it too fast).

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59 minutes ago, Silk City Distillers said:

.................., keeping the still in 100% reflux, with absolutely no distillate being collected, and then ever so slightly increase the dephlegmator flow rate (temperature) and/or power input to start collecting distillate.............

Hi Silk City, I am an alembic pot still user and am currently building a couple of reflux columns and am trying to work out the control options.

Your explanation in the above post made the control very clear except in the underlined part of the quote. Wouldn't you DECREASE the dephleg. flow rate and that will increase its temperature which will then let some high proof vapor past!

I suspect that might be a typo, but if not, could you please explain.

Thanks

Pete

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Pete - Yep, typo.  I originally had "increase the temperature", but then flipped temp for flow, since I didn't know if DistillaMI had the ability to manage dephlegmator temperature directly.  I thought it would make more sense, but bungled it up.

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If you want to chat about control options, I can certainly share my thoughts.  We are running a PID-based dephlegmator control using a proportional valve actuator.  Tuning is always a chore, but we've got it dialed in to the point where we can hold dephlegmator temp to a couple tenths of a degree, with nearly 100% run-to-run repeatability.  Which is surprising because we have a recirculating setup and our recirc tank temp can vary from day to day, run to run.

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"typo" , that is good news because if it wasn't I was going back to school.

I use PID controls. I think the ones with proportional valves are much dearer than the ones that run the on/off valves.

I use one on my instantaneous hot water. I plan to use the same setup on the dephleg. I have a hand operated tap to get the water flow a little slower than required then the PID switches the on/off valve to pulse a little more water to keep a stable temperature. I have fluctuating water pressure and it is amazing how those little cheap things can work out how to keep the temperature correct.

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Im up for a control software / hardware thread so I can bitch about my solenoid valve controlled deph.

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50 minutes ago, indyspirits said:

Im up for a control software / hardware thread so I can bitch about my solenoid valve controlled deph.

Control thread for sure! We're getting ready to install a BCS-462 for fermentation temperature control! Still not sure it is the best option....but the price and functionality are where we need them to be!

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I am just reading threads trying to determine the minimum width/height of a column I can use to create our vodka. It will be from product created post stripping run  I have a 14' constraint (ceiling height) and have read differing views on how difficult it is to run a 2 column setup.  Given my maximum column height what would experience suggest is the best way to create 190 proof product for our vodka.

Thanks in advance 

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I am a firm believer in the 20x diameter for packed to get a reliable neutral at a decent take off rate or 20 ish plates.   I struggled when I first started since I was less than that.   Added more height and more efficient packing which fixed the problem.   

I think that home distillers can get a claimed 190 for two reasons, using uncalibrated Hydrometers and with a 2" column it's a lot easier to get to 20 X the diameter as its only 40".  6" is a full 10 ft for starters.   The only way to do it with a tall still is to move the column next to the still.   I have seen a few setups with the column not in line but never run one. 

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DistillaMI,

Everyone on here has given good advice.   There is a very closely kept secret among a few vodka distillers.  If you add 1lb of salt per every 100 gallons of mash it will help break the Aziotrope and you should be able to hit 190 proof no problem.  Add the salt after fermentation is complete or it will kill your fermentation.  The salt will increase the boiling point of water to 216°F  It imports no flavor to the distillate.  I think that you should use salt with no iodine or other additives.  

 For everyone who wants tighter control on your dephlegmators we have thermostatic valves that will do that for you at a much better cost than PID, or computer control.  Also the Thermostatic valves do not operate off of electricity so they are, in effect, explosion proof.  Also, they give you proportional control instead on off control.  We have used them to run up to 3 offset multiple plate columns with no issues.  You just set the temperature slide on the valve and the valve will maintain the temperature selected.  Including the price of our special thermowell these Swedish made valves cost between $450.00 and $500.00 For more info or to purchase call 417-778-6100 or email paul@distillery-equipment.com  http://distillery-equipment.com

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IMO, you would be fine with a good two column design or one column that sits off to the side of the pot. As long as you have a good design, there are no real drawbacks from either approach, as the heat will continue on to the column just as well to the side as it would on top. I have a 7' packed column still that does great and reaches > 190 proof, but due to the 2" column you get a small flow rate. Keep in mind that your flow rate is directly proportional to the diameter of the column, so depending on your goals with the vodka (i.e. for recreation or for profitable sale) the column diameter should be heavily considered. If you're trying to start a business I would go with > 6" column, but that's just my opinion.

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Too high abv in a boiler is dangerous. And it can be the cause of the issues the OP is encountering. Not saying it is, but it may. 15 or 16 distillations should take you to 190 proof. What may happen, and i am not sure, but it can cause the issue of not reaching 190, is ethanol blockage. For a column to work well, it needs to be able to establish a temperature gradient. Higher at the bottom, lower at the top. If your still is charged with very high abv, it will create the lowest temperatures already low in the column, and this hampers the rising and further purification of the spirits. Since the boiler is still fed with power, a pressure situation can evolve where water i(or boiler contents) are pushed up the column, smearing into the more purified alcohol. To test it, dilute to 30% prior to doing the 15-plate run.

I think Southernhighlander's advice may work well, even though with a good system you wouldn't need that. Personally, I feel Liquid Management instead of Cooling Management works better. In LM you don't have a dephlag that is influences by water temp, water pressure, surrounding temp and air pressure. Instead you have a column cooler that liquifies all gasses and you then select manually via a needle-valve what goes back for redistillation and what is taken out as product. The advantage of this Liquid Management column management system for vodka making is that it is only influenced by differences in air pressure (well, the boiling point of alcohol is), so there is more control.

My experience with a lot of those that use packing in their column, is that it works nicely. Depending on what you use, it can give you like one distilation cycle per inch of column packing. Distillami, putting some scrubbers in won't do it. Look at something like our helicon column packing.

BCouts, I think the sizing question really relates to how much product you want to make. How much vodka. I know Liquid Management columns that are packed and that produce 190 at rates of 15 to 20 liter per hour. That's on just a 5 inch column diameter and 30% boiler charges.

Regards, Odin.

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